A chat with artist Denis Volpiana

6 November 2017

Hello, I’m a participant on the Employment Preparation Programme here at The House of St Barnabas, this has given me the chance of doing my work experience in their Art Department. As part of this I recently assisted in setting up a temporary exhibition in our beautiful chapel – not only was this an interesting new work experiment for me – it was fun as well!

‘The Real Face’ took place in our Chapel on Friday 6th October, an exhibition showcasing works by Italian artist Denis Volpiana, courtesy of Meet Art Projects. During this temporary exhibition Denis invited visitors join him in a little creative painting on found objects, including everything from broken plant pots to bits of wood and polystyrene.

It was a wonderful experience, even though it lasted just a day it left me with a positive and uplifting feeling. I had a chance to meet the artist and chat with him about his hometown and art studio in Italy while sitting down to do a little painting, which for me was a lovely moment of spontaneity – it can be as much fun and creative as the well thought out paintings he was exhibiting.

For me, his art demonstrates different ideas explored through the range of colours and shades he uses, provoking diverse experiences in the viewer, even if they’re looking at the same painting. The Real Face has left me with a pleasant memories as well as being a great learning experience…and now on to our Q&A!


Hi Denis, what’s your story so far – how did you first get into art and then how have you become an artist?

I got close to art mainly through books. When I was a child my mum used to collect and recycle abandoned things, many of these objects were books and I used to love browsing their pages, observing the images in order to draw them and re-create them in my own way. I was especially attracted by ancient artworks, from cave paintings to 16th century Baroque monuments. Ever since my passion for creating art has been inspired by the observation of these masterpieces and the emotions they stimulate in me.

Later during my teenage years, I studied in a seminary where I had the first impactful experience related to history of art. In this period I was fascinated by the life and work of Cézanne and Picasso but despite the fact that I tried to reproduce their work as accurately as possible my imagination was always stronger than my hand – these studies became my very first original drawings.

In the following years I attempted to study accountancy and start a professional career in this field, I worked in the factory owned by my father and then travelled around Europe finding temporary jobs and selling my drawings in streets and parks. In the end I had to accept that the only career I could and wanted to pursue was being an artist, so I graduated at the New Academy of Fine Arts in Milan and started my life as a painter, collaborating with other artists and working with a small circle of collectors and curators.

What influences your work?

An important element that constantly inspires me is nature, its strength and its ability to regenerate. This has also been an inspiration for me to face challenging life experiences. My work is also inspired by the people I meet every day, by exchanges of energies between human beings and by the sense of hope I feel when I meet someone who is honest and authentic.

How does the act of painting make you feel?

Free. When I paint my mind goes to a sort of different reality. I almost never realise or remember the instants when this new state of mind begins, time start moving in a sort of constant, unique flow, without hours or minutes.

You engaged with people during your exhibition in our chapel, inviting them to join you in painting – what was that experience like?

It’s been a great experience that I will always remember as a very happy moment. I felt really welcomed and I was glad to see so many people appreciating my work and interacting with me.

I hear you make sculptures, can you tell me a little about that?

I have a very intimate approach towards sculpture, it is my way to experiment with different materials. I like to create, destroy and transform. I use different materials like tree branches or concrete but I also compose assemblages using toys and found objects. In all my works I try to play with materials and shapes to communicate feelings and concepts I care about.

What was special about exhibiting at HoSB?

I am really happy to have had the chance to exhibit at The House of St Barnabas, an organisation that not only collaborates with great established artists but also promotes new talent in multiple creative fields. It also felt really special to have the opportunity to exhibit my work in an historical venue and in such an unusual and unique space as the Chapel, which related to my artworks and somehow to my life and artistic career.

Have you created a piece that you haven’t been able to part with?

I used to feel like this towards almost all of my artworks but when I understood that their power to resonate with me or even solve my own issues and change my state of mind could have the same effect on others, I changed my approach and since then I have never had any real favourite, they are all made to be shared.

Which artists do you look up to?

Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Umberto Boccioni, Cy Twombly, Alberto Giacometti and Yayoi Kusama. Also the romantics and in particular Caspar David Friedrich and William Turner inspire my research of movement and interest for nature, I often use resin drippings to give the shapes I draw and paint a more natural character of spontaneity.